CUH NHS 75th birthday logo

Clostridium difficile

Patient information A-Z

1. What is Clostridium difficile?

Clostridium difficile is a bacterium (bug) which causes diarrhoea, sometimes with abdominal pain and vomiting. It often occurs following treatment with antibiotics.

Most often it affects elderly people and those with other health problems.

The symptoms range from mild diarrhoea for a few days, which stops on its own, to frequent offensive stools with mucus and sometimes blood.

2. How do staff find out if I have Clostridium difficile?

If you have diarrhoea for more than 24 hours we will take a stool specimen and send it to the laboratory for testing. The result should be available after about 24 hours.

3. Can it be treated?

Yes. Sometimes stopping the antibiotics is sufficient. In more severe cases a specific antibiotic tablet will be given for seven to ten days. Symptoms usually subside after two to three days.

4. How do we stop it spreading?

The bacterium is found in large numbers in the stools but it can also live in dust, bed sheets and on surfaces, so your room should be cleaned daily, with a specific chlorine-based cleaning agent. It is advisable that your nightwear and bed linen should be changed daily or when soiled.

Hand washing (rather than using hand sanitiser) is also necessary to prevent the spread of infection. Hand sanitiser is ineffective if the patient is suffering from Clostridium difficile.

5. Do I need to be in a single room?

Yes, this will help to prevent the spread of the infection to other patients who may be more vulnerable than yourself.

6. Can people still visit me and can they catch Clostridium difficile?

Visitors may still come and see you. Healthy people are at very little risk of catching Clostridium difficile. It is not a problem to children and pregnant women.

We advise visitors to wear gloves and aprons if providing personal care and if people are visiting other patients they must see the non-infectious patient first.

Hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water on leaving the side room.

7. What about my personal laundry?

If you are suffering from diarrhoea due to Clostridium difficile, you should use only hospital linen and nightwear. However, if you choose to wear your own clothes they should be taken home daily by relatives and washed separately at temperatures above 60°C.

8. Can it come back?

Unfortunately, yes. Further courses of antibiotics may cause the symptoms to return. Sometimes it will be necessary to give a longer course of treatment to eliminate the problem.

9. How will I know when the Clostridium difficile has gone?

When the diarrhoea stops, the course of antibiotics has been finished and when your normal bowel habit returns, we consider the infection has gone. There is no need to send a further specimen to check.

10. Who can I speak to if I have further questions?

Please speak to any of the ward staff who are caring for you. If they are unable to answer your questions, or if you require further information, the infection control nurses will visit you on the ward, or are available via the hospital switchboard.

Infection Control

Addenbrooke’s Hospital
Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road

01223 217497

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151